top of page

Denison, Railroad City

Denison's MKT roundhouse and shops, where Dwight Eisenhower's father worked (and the reason for the president's birthplace being Denison, Texas) were located right below the Austin Street Viaduct (Grayson County GenWeb)..

Denison lies north of Sherman in Grayson County, Texas and is, without doubt, one of the most interesting cities in the Red River Valley. Founded by the Missouri, Kansas & Texas Railway in 1872 (well, kind of; it's the MKT's arrival on Christmas 1872 when the little hamlet took off like a rocket!), its relatively short existence belies the incredible amount of change this city has seen.

The MKT traveled from Missouri into Texas through Indian Territory. It was the first railroad that connected Texas to northern markets, which made Denison a very important city in the period after the Civil War. At one point, Denison saw seven (maybe more -this is my rough estimate) railroads converge onto its center. One of these railroads was the Houston & Texas Central Railway, which had received the charter to connect to the MKT at the Red River. The H&TC actually built Red River City to accommodate the connection, but instead, the MKT just simply past this point and made up its own town.

It wasn't supposed to, but it did. And because Denison became the hub and not Red River City, the city of Denison welcomed people flocking from all over the country and world. It was a boom town, and a large portion of newcomers arrived from Kansas. The city funded public schools, albeit segregated schools, and never really had a "segregated" neighborhood. It was completely different from other towns in the state. It was focused on industry and productivity.

Today, most of what remains of this vast infrastructure lies in ruin or has simply vanished.

One of Denison's main employers, and major site of its industrial activity, were the MKT shops located beneath by the Austin Street viaduct just south of Denison's downtown (today, the viaduct is known as Eisenhower Parkway). Once the work place of Dwight D. Eisenhower's father and also the site of a major labor union dispute, the shops moved to Ray Yard in west Denison after a fire burned the roundhouse in the 1920s. The downtown rail yard continued to be used for switching until the 1990s, when the MKT was subsumed into the Union Pacific Railroad. The tracks were removed as all the shunting was done at Ray Yard. The same goes for the Houston & Texas Central Railway. It, too, was incorporated into the Missouri Pacific, then Southern Pacific, then into the Union Pacific Railroad, and its shops in Denison were destroyed. The H&TC tracks were later acquired by the St. Louis & San Francisco Railway, and today, the old right-of-way once used by the H&TC is traversed by the Burlington Northern Santa Fe.

I decided to see if I could find any remains of these once-busy places, and I wasn't disappointed. Although it still pains me to see what little is still extant of Denison's railroad past, it is fascinating to uncover its ruins.

The Sanborn Map for the H&TC Round House on the east side of Denison. At the bottom of the image is the railroad station for the Texas & Pacific. Today, this location is a gas station!

Satellite image
The outline for the H&TC shop can be seen from satellite.

Bird's eye view
Denison could boast of having two roundhouses: Missouri, Kansas, and Texas Railway, and Houston & Texas Central Railway. The shop for the H&TC was situated right off Main Street on the east side of town.

Satellite image
An empty llot is all that remains from the MKT yards behind downtown Denison.

Another view of the MKT roundhouse, machine shops, and switching yards off the viaduct in downtown Denison.

Switching yard
MKT moved its operations to Ray Yard west of town. Its roundhouse can be seen on the left.

Satellite image
The MKT roundhouse burned and, after labor disputes, the company changed the location of their machine shops to an area west of town. The Ray Yard is still actively switching, but the roundhouse is gone. Now, it's only a scar on the ground.

Base for water tank storage at the former MKT yards in downtown Denison.

The best time to explore is during winter, when the outlines of buildings are much more discernible. From the middle (turnstile), the base of the round house can be made out.

An iron door at the former MKT yards may be a relic from a steam engine.

The infrastructure for the MKT yards is still intact, as it was made to last; here's the drainage canal that funneled water into Paw Paw Creek.

Sanborn Map from 1930 shows the MKT shops. Today, this is an empty lot behind Albertsons.

Infrastructure found from the H&TC roundhouse.

Old bricks from the MKT shops still litter the ground if you look a bit.

Concrete base, now enveloped by trees, at the H&TC roundhouse site.

129 views0 comments


bottom of page